Live Flesh (1997) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

I read some reviews of this Almodóvar film that praised his new maturity and control.

Oh, poppycock. Flamboyant excess wasn't Almodóvar's weakness, it was his strength. His passion for color and character, his embrace of every variant in a pansexual world, his understanding of the complexities of relationships, his offbeat humor, his love and for the sights and sounds of a uniquely Spanish, uniquely Almodóvar existence - those are the things that made his work so splashy and life-embracing, and his heart so much bigger than ours. That's why we love him.

We don't want to see him become more like American and French and Swedish and British directors, any more than we would have liked to see his famous countryman, Antonio Gaudi, design buildings like St Paul's cathedral. 

Above all, we don't want him to start thinking with his brain instead of his heart.  


Francesca Neri is topless, as she undresses for a sex scene.

Liberto Rabal does full-frontal nudity.

In this film, he chose a noir mystery thriller and that, by its very nature, requires the filmmaker to sacrifice character to plot. A mystery, by its nature, is tidy. There are questions that have to be answered and ends that have to be tied. Almodóvar's complete lack of tidiness is what makes him so wonderful, so Almodóvar. Furthermore, noir means black. Almodóvar is about light and color and wearing one's emotions on one's sleeve, not murky, shadowy plots and motives. 

Did I like the movie? I didn't love it, but it has so many plusses that you almost forget about its minuses so, yeah, I liked it. But I sure don't want to see Almodóvar make more movies like this.

The opening scene takes place in Franco's Spain. Franco has decreed martial law, and the streets of Madrid are empty. Penelope Cruz plays a hooker who is having a baby in a public bus. The actual birth scene is beautifully filmed, beginning with a remote shot of the bus parked under some garish lights in a deserted street. The angle is 3/4 overhead, and slowly, slowly moves in on the window where, eventually, we see Penelope holding her new baby. All the while, he hear a comical exchange between Penelope, her older friend, and the beleaguered bus driver.

Cut to some television reports of the incident, and a promise by the mayor of Madrid that the woman and her baby will be able to ride the public transportation free for life, in honor of the bus birth. 

This scene is beautiful, classic Almodóvar as only he could do it. It was almost completely irrelevant to the rest of the film, but I'd never suggest removing it because it was the part I liked best.

The rest of the film really is a straightforward noir. Flash forward 20 years, to the baby grown up. He wants to have a second date with a crack ho that he slept with the week before. It was the first time he ever had sex with a woman, and she laughs at his ineptitude. In the process of their talk, her gun goes off, and the police arrive, to find the boy now holding the gun. 

The entire incident had actually been defused, and the kid was actually leaving without the gun, when he spotted the armed cops, and panicked.

One of the two policemen is in a really foul mood because his wife is cheating on him. The situation gets so out of hand that the sensible policeman has to turn his own gun on the drunken, angry policeman in order to defuse the situation. As the good cop is getting the woman out of danger, the bad cop lunges for the kid's gun. We hear the gun go off, and we see the good cop falling down a staircase.

Flash forward six years to the boy being released from jail. He has concocted an elaborate plot of revenge on the good cop and the crack ho, who have ended up as husband and wife. The cop was severely injured in the fall, and is now in a wheelchair.

(Time-out! This part of the movie makes no sense. Why the hell does he want revenge against the cop who saved his life instead of the drunken, bad cop who wanted to kill him on the spot? Strange choice, eh, especially since he knows something we don't know, which would make revenge against the bad cop even more logical, and makes the good cop even more of an innocent bystander.)

Anyway, turns out that the three of them form a sort of unusual love triangle after a few plot twists and turns. Since it is a mystery, and since the actual details of the shooting, as well as the resolution of the triangle, are an important part of the mystery, I won't elaborate.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 2.35:1

  • no features except a trailer

It plays out like an English drawing-room mystery with only five characters. The good cop and his wife (ex crack ho), the bad cop and his wife, and the kid. I should point out that even though I didn't elaborate on the bad cop's cheating wife, it turns out that she is the link between all of the other characters, for reasons too complex to discuss, and inappropriate to reveal.

You can see from my description that the director had to sacrifice his free-wheeling character development in order to make a lot of concessions to plot twists. I liked the movie enough, because the three main characters were interesting and loving and complex people, and the film ends in the way it probably should end, based on the personalities of the main characters. But, dammit, Almodóvar, I didn't want Gaudi to do Christopher Wren buildings, and I don't want you to do Brian De Palma movies. Just be yourself, for heaven's sake, and forget about what the critics say about finding a mature voice. Great artists are always unique. That's what makes them great.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three stars. Berardinelli 3.5/4, Apollo 71/100.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it a near-classic 7.4, Apollo users a very impressive 87/100. Those scores are too high, in my opinion. It is a good movie, not the great one indicated by those ratings.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B-. It crawls too slowly for a mystery, and it isn't deep enough for a character study. It is trapped somewhere in between those worlds. It is a good movie, but may not please either hard-core Almodóvar fans or noir fans.

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